I say no.
Lucy Muthoka — the Winnipeg woman who killed two Manitoba men with her car in a massive downtown crash on June 25, 2008 — should never have been criminally charged.
That’s my personal view of the case, based on the outcome of it, decided yesterday at the law courts building.
Notwithstanding the grief the dead men’s families feel, and their views that they were treated unfairly by the legal system — the way this case proceeded and ended all points to a tragic accident having taken place.
Let’s look at the timeline.
June 25, 2008: the fatal crash at St. Mary and Donald. William Halcrow and James Ross are killed and David Matsubara is seriously injured.
Dec. 11, 2008: Muthoka is arrested and charged with two counts of criminal negligence causing death. The homicide-related charges reflect the seriousness of what happened, reporters are told. They were laid in consultation with the Crown’s office. Remember, it’s been more than six months that the crash happened.
There’s no allegations that drugs or alcohol have anything to do with what happened.
The case winds its way through the courts for more than a year. Muthoka is out on bail, given that she has no priors, is a valued federal government employee and is considered a leader in Winnipeg’s African community.
March 4, 2010: Muthoka enters guilty pleas to lesser charges of dangerous driving causing death, bringing the unlikely prospect of prison time down from a possible maximum of life behind bars to 14 years. Even at this late stage in the case, there’s still evidently some issues about how the crash happened, and whether Muthoka was at fault
The Crown accepts her pleas in full answer to the men’s deaths, and basically telegraphs to the court that no jail time would be sought.
Under the Criminal Code, Muthoka faces a maximum 14-year prison term, however the court has ordered a pre-sentencing report be drawn up by an agency that specializes in community-based sentencing alternatives.
Neither the Crown nor Simmonds made any comment at the hearing about what sentence they are seeking in the case.
Friday Aug. 20, 2010: More than two years after the crash, Judge Brent Stewart, Muthoka, the lawyers and members of the victim’s families gather in in a courtroom to decide Muthoka’s [clearly pre-determined) fate. The Crown takes no position.
Muthoka, a religious woman, apologizes for what happened and has to hear the victim impact statements of the families of the men she killed.
In passing sentence, the judge declares that the courts are not courts of vengeance and suspends Muthoka's sentence, bars her from driving for 10 years and hands her two years of probation.
Conditions include many "restorative" principles, including mediation with the victims' families if it can be done, and community service of 240 hours.
Halcrow and Ross' families leave upset, feeling justice wasn't done.
But let's be honest: There's no way locking Muthoka up — for any period of time — would satiate their grief in any way in the first place.
If the end result of the case was this and was always thus, I ask what the point of charging her in the first place was.
The Crown signs off initially on two very serious homicide-related charges, reduces them on plea and ends up taking no public position as to sentence.
It's pretty clear there was little interest in prosecuting this case.
And, it appears there was little public interest in doing so either, given the sheer number of people commenting on stories about the verdict that echo exactly what I've said here.
The charges should have been stayed a long time ago and the whole incident seen for what it was: a tragic accident committed by a novice driver who is sincerely remorseful.
If I'm not mistaken, MPI could have imposed the driver ban, which is probably the most harsh aspect of the whole judicial punishment.
But I have to ask: If there was evidence to lay criminal negligence causing death two years ago, what happened to it?
PS: I was at the provincial court counter when Muthoka was signing her probation order.
She was with a friend/support who kept glaring at me, I guess sensing I was curious about Muthoka, or somehow knew I was with the media.
She and Muthoka slipped out the Woodsworth Building entrance, thus avoiding any possibility of a confrontation with the victims' families or the media.
A smart defence lawyer handling a high-profile case always tells their client to come and go by this route.
PPS: I call 'boo' on the scheduling mishaps that took place with Muthoka's case on Friday, which make me wonder if there was a deliberate attempt to keep the sentencing out of the papers or other media.
After the last June 30 remand date, the sentencing was set for 2 p.m. Aug. 20 in courtroom 404 - the provincial court side of the Law Courts complex.
When I turned up at court on Friday, the docket reflected exactly that. 2 p.m., 404.
But, turns out about a week ago, it was quietly rescheduled for Friday morning in a courtroom on the second floor of the Queen's Bench [old Law Courts] side of the building.
And then it was bumped down a floor to another courtroom just before the hearing started.
No note was placed on the door of courtroom 404 to advise of the change, and it’s really surprising the docket wasn’t altered to reflect the new time and courtroom, as that’s been pretty standard practice for some time now.
Thanks to Global Winnipeg’s Jeff Keele for being on the ball and filling me in on what happened.
No other reporter in town actually made it into the room for the hearing because of the “mixup.”